Isaan

I decided to go on my first missions trip slightly on a whim! It was one of those ‘God’ moments that you hear about all the time. I was in my car, driving to school one day and as I was driving, for some reason the gravity and the weight of knowing how many people around the world weren’t saved hit me hard, and I had an emotional breakdown while driving. It was weird. That Sunday, I promptly went to my pastor and told him what had happened, and expressed to him a wish to go on a short-term mission trip, anywhere.

I was planning to do an exchange semester in New Zealand so I figured that since New Zealand and Canada are literally on opposite sides of the world it’d make sense for me to stop anywhere and do a few months of missions. With this in mind I signed up for an OMF Serve Asia mission trip to Chiang Mai for six weeks.

But it was here that God began to start pulling the strings, and of course, I was helpless to do anything but watch and ultimately obey. It turned out that the start date for the Chiang Mai trip was six days before my examination period in New Zealand ended! This meant that I could not go on the trip unless something changed on my end. For me, this meant praying desperately for my exams to not conflict with the mission trip dates. Of course, they did, and once I received those dates, I wrote the most convicting letter to my exchange university explaining that I had to go on this mission trip, and of course, this email was rejected as well. Dejected and with less than a month until I was to embark for a trip, things were looking bleak.

In case the trip did not work out, I had been looking for alternatives.

I had also found strong Christian brothers and sisters, including people at OMF New Zealand, who were praying and supporting me through this time. As soon as I accepted that I would not be going to Chiang Mai and decided to go on an alternative trip things happened instantly. God is so good! Within days of applying for it, my police check was mailed straight to my house in Canada. In addition, God provided abundant with the financial support that I needed to go on this alternative trip, to the point that I was actually turning down offers to donate to me near the end of June!

So it’s here that my first mission trip began to take part in Sattha, a soccer ministry. I grew up playing some soccer, but stopped when I was around twelve years old, so it had been a while since I’d played anything. I’m sure that reflected on the soccer pitch! I like to refer to myself as the ‘utility player’. That meant that I was playing wherever the team wanted me, as long as they wanted me to, while (trying) to do whatever they told me to do. This normally resulted in me playing poorly, or doing foolish things for most of the game, with one or two moments of brilliance in between. For example, there was one game where I was playing as a defender. I’m a terrible defender, and it showed the entire game, as I was routinely running around like a headless chicken while our coach and some teammates were yelling directions to me on the bench. On one play, I remember one of the defenders on a clear breakaway on net, and somehow I made an amazing sliding tackle that saved our team from a certain goal!

To me, sport has always been a refuge.

It’s a place where anybody, no matter what their differences are, can come together and communicate, and it was a blessing for me to see how God touched lives through the sport of soccer by bringing together a team of people from over ten different countries as witnesses for His glory over three weeks.

It wasn’t only about playing soccer, though. Through my time at Sattha, I developed a love not only for the people of Thailand, but for the people that I met and bonded with on my team. Hearing stories that were not so different from my own testimony, only these were people growing up in a country halfway across the world, put things into perspective. And even though the children we taught English to, or the Thai people that we played football with did not understand our words, I believe that God transcended the gap between cultures and allowed for some wonderful moments to happen. More than anything else, I saw how God was at work in the country of Thailand, that there were Christians in the communities, but that these Christians were sometimes isolated, frustrated and in need of encouragement, and I hope that we were an encouragement to them so that they could be salt and light to those around them.

After Sattha ended I moved on to another OMF ministry in Mahasarakham. I had become attached to my Sattha teammates, and it did feel very lonely when I was the last one remaining and it was time to board my train. I’ve never lived in a rural setting in my life. The closest I’d come before that would probably have been New Zealand. Therefore, Maha Sarakham was different! When I was there, I had already been accustomed to the Sattha camp in Hong Nam, and therefore I didn’t think much of the setting in Maha Sarakham. But now that I’ve been back in Toronto for two months, I realize just how rural the area I was in was compared to a large Western city.

My takeaway from being in Maha Sarakham was experiencing a little bit of the full-time missionary lifestyle.

I can honestly say that being there was quite relaxing! My days often did not start until 11:00 am, and they would end at approximately 4:00 pm. That isn’t to say that they weren’t productive, though. I found the abundance of free time very good for developing relationships with those around me, be it my missionary hosts, the students that we were teaching English to at the University of Maha Sarakham, my roommate, or even at the Muay Thai gym that I took lessons at for the duration of my time there.

I can say that I was mildly surprised that God did not use me to directly share the gospel message to anyone in Thailand. Rather, I felt that He was challenging me to live my life in a way that directly reflected Christ to the people I met. In other words, the way I lived would cause others, even people who have no idea who I am or where I’m from, to think to themselves, “What is so different about this Clarence fellow?” From Ephesians 5:2, “walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up to us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” I was asked numerous times on this trip why I believed God called me to the short-term mission field. My answer is that He wanted me to see what He is doing in the world. Going for six weeks, I am realistically not going to make much of an impact at all. But I saw what God was doing in Thailand, and heard about what He was doing in many other countries besides. I also hope that I was an encouragement to the Christians who are following the Great Commission in Thailand, and who knows? Maybe I’ll join their ranks one day…

Clarence, Serve Asia Worker in Thailand

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Sattha football team photoBangkok street at night